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A mill town, also known as factory town or mill village, is typically a settlement that developed around one or more mills or factories (usually cotton mills or factories producing textiles).

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the term "mill town" often refers to the 19th century textile-manufacturing towns of northern England and the Scottish Lowlands, particularly those in Lancashiremarker (cotton) and Yorkshiremarker (wool). Manchestermarker was bestowed with the name Cottonopolismarker as its immediate region was considered a metropolis of cotton processing mills. One of the most famous references to the early mills was in the poem/hymn "Jerusalem" by William Blake, in which "those dark satanic mills" were used to symbolise the injustice that a new Jerusalem ought to replace.

The British textile industry never fully recovered after the Great Depression, and its decline continued after the Second World War when it was unable to compete with the growing Indian textile industry. It is said that Gandhi was jeered when he visited mill towns on his 1931 tour of Britain, as many locals blamed his policies for causing unemployment. There are still a minority of mills left in operation today however. In addition, many mill buildings have conservation orders on them, and some have been converted into blocks of flats.

The term mill town has seen something of a revival in the British media since the debate over relations between whites and Asians began in the aftermath of riots in several mill towns. The term conveniently groups together towns on both sides of the Pennines that suffer from racial segregation and sometimes significant racial tension. Many mill towns in northern England are known today as "mill and mosque towns" because of the large amount of British Pakistani Muslims who live there.

Bradfordmarker has seen several riots in recent years whilst Burnleymarker, Dewsburymarker and Oldhammarker have all had suffered one riot each (see Oldham Riots and Bradford Riot). After the Second World War, thousands of migrants from both the Caribbeanmarker and the Indian subcontinent settled in the mill towns to fill the labour shortage in the industry; they often moved to the traditional working-class areas whilst the White working-class moved out to the newly built estates after the war.

Many mill towns have a symbol of the textile industry in their town badge. Some towns may also have statues dedicated to textile workers (e.g. Colne[66973]) or have a symbol in the badge of local schools (e.g. Ossett Schoolmarker).

The list below includes some towns where textiles was not the predominant industry. For example, mining was also a key industry in Wigan and Leigh in Lancashire, and in Ossett in Yorkshire.

Cheshire mill towns

† - Hyde and Stalybridge used to be in Cheshire, but are now part of Greater Manchester.

Lancashire mill towns

Duke Street Mill, Blackburn, Lancashire, England
† - denotes as a town from the historic county boundaries of Lancashire, but now in Greater Manchestermarker.

Yorkshire mill towns

† - Barnoldswick used to be in Yorkshire, but is now part of Lancashire.

On his tour of northern England in 1849, Scottish publisher Angus Reach said:

United States

New England

Beginning with technological information smuggled out of England by Francis Cabot Lowell, large mills were established in New Englandmarker in the early to mid 19th century. Mill towns, sometimes planned, built and owned as a company town, grew in the shadow of the industries. The region became a manufacturing powerhouse along rivers like the Housatonic River, Quinebaug River, Shetucket River, Blackstone River, Merrimack River, Nashua Rivermarker, Cochecho Rivermarker, Saco Rivermarker, Androscoggin River, Kennebec River or Winooski River.
"In the nineteenth century, saws and axes made in New England cleared the forests of Ohiomarker; New England ploughs broke the prairie sod, New England scales weighed wheat and meat in Texasmarker; New England serge clothed businessmen in San Franciscomarker; New England cutlery skinned hides to be tanned in Milwaukeemarker and sliced apples to be dried in Missourimarker; New England whale oil lit lamps across the continent; New England blankets warmed children by night and New England textbooks preached at them by day; New England guns armed the troops; and New England dies, lathes, looms, forges, presses and screwdrivers outfitted factories far and wide." - Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities, 1969
In the 20th century, alternatives to water power were developed, and it became more profitable for companies to manufacture textiles in southern states where cotton was grown and winters did not require significant heating costs. Finally, the Great Depression acted as a catalyst that sent several struggling New England firms into bankruptcy.

Connecticut mill towns

Assawaga Mill, Dayville, CT in 1909
American Thread Co.
Mill, Willimantic, CT in c.

Maine mill towns

Hollingsworth & Whitney Paper Mill, Waterville, ME in c.
Cumberland Mills, Westbrook, ME in c.

Massachusetts mill towns

Mill Street, Attleboro, MA in 1908
Arlington Mills, Lawrence, MA in 1907
Merrimack Falls, Lawrence, MA in c.

New Hampshire mill towns

Amoskeag Mills, Manchester, NH in c.
Jackson Mills, Nashua, NH in 1907

Rhode Island mill towns

Alice Mills, Woonsocket, RI in 1911

Vermont mill towns

Colchester Mills, Winooski, VT in 1907

Middle States

New Jersey mill towns

Southern U.S.

Alabama mill towns

Arkansas mill towns

Georgia mill towns

North Carolina mill towns

Model Mill Settlement, Chadwick Mills, Charlotte, N.C.
Published circa 1905-1915.
White Oak Cotton Mills, Greensboro, N.C.
Circa 1914
Aerial view of Ware Shoals Mill

South Carolina mill towns

Sawmill towns

South America


Museums and historic sites

See also


  1. Vincent Newton, Oldham, British Library Archival Sound Recordings
  2. Nick Cohen, Fist in the kid glove, The Guardian, 1 July 2001
  3. UNCOVERED - The BNP and Islamophobia
  4. Andrew Norfolk, July suicide bomber 'is an invisible poster boy', The Times, April 28, 2006
  5. It's time to stand up, UNISON, 17 April 2003
  6. The Arrival of the Asian Population, Cotton Town: Your Town, Your History

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